Alright, enough messing around. Today marks one of two things. It either marks the point where the Red Wings took charge, got on track and extended their playoff streak. Or, it marks the point where the wheels have completely fallen off an the streak snaps at 24 because we couldn’t beat the Buffalo Sabres.
This team has become infuriating to watch recently because they either barely win or they get blown out. There hasn’t been a game in March where the Red Wings have played well and lost. Either they pull out a win or they have a one period meltdown and give up four and lost the game by a landslide. Are there some angry undertones in my writing right now? Yep. But, let’s take a look at some positives.
The reason today is important is because every game is important, duh. But today is ultra-important because we play the 24th placed Buffalo Sabres, who have managed to win three of their last four. It is also the start of a stretch where the Red Wings play teams with a losing record in three of their next four games. Ideally, the Red Wings need to go 4-0-0 and maybe put themselves in a more comfortable spot before they play the Flyers and Bruins in back-to-back games—likely to determine who’s in and who’s out.
We come into tonight outside of the playoffs, one point behind the Flyers (thanks Arizona!) but they still have that game in-hand and will for the rest of the season. We’re also three points behind the Bruins (who are off tonight) but we have the game in-hand.
The only good thing about Saturday’s blowout loss it that we got to realize that the Penguins are pretty good, which is good because the Flyers still have to play them twice. The Flyers also have the NHL-leading Capitals this Wednesday, while Boston plays in St. Louis and Chicago this week. But, that’s all irrelevant if the Red Wings can’t get the ship steered back in the right direction and rattle off consecutive wins against teams that they should absolutely beat. Let’s start with the Sabres and break this thing down!
THE RED WINGS
The Red Wings did not practice on Sunday, so there’s no indication whether or not the lineup will look different tonight. When you get destroyed like Detroit did, general logic would suggest you shake things up at least a little bit. Frankly, I would love to see Alexey Marchenko back in the lineup, but we’ll see if that happens in the morning skate. It is always strange to me how other players (mainly Brendan Smith) are held responsible and scratched when they play poorly, yet Jonathan Ericsson never sits. Weird. I know he makes a lot of money, but that doesn’t matter on the ice right now. Unless he takes out all $4.25 million and stacks it up behind our goalie to keep the puck out, money doesn’t matter and he has been horrendous lately. When the team plays as poorly as they just did, messages need to be sent that it won’t be tolerated. Sitting a player with that kind of cap-hit would send a message and oh my god fans would be happy!
I’m getting negative again, back to the positive! This will be the fifth and final meeting of the season between the two clubs. Detroit has won three of the first four while averaging 3.00 goals for and 2.25 goals against. No single player has really taken over the season-series for the Red Wings, but there has been huge individual efforts from different players along the way. The lone bright spot for Detroit recently is Pavel Datsyuk, he just recorded his 600th career assist and comes into tonight on a four-game point streak and has three goals and four assists (seven points) in his last six games. Mike Green, who scored the strangest goal on Saturday, has five points (1G / 4A) over that same six-game span.
*** Morning Skate Update: Blashill listened to me and put Marchenko in the lineup, but as per usual, Smith will be the one that comes out. The forward lines are expected to look the same, but Blashill said the lineup won’t be confirmed until after warmups ***
This may not be the best lineup ever but it’s a big-boy lineup. The Sabres’ 12 forwards average 6-foot-1 and 205 lbs. and that includes the 5-foot-7, 178 lbs. Brian Gionta. Much like the Red Wings, no individual player has had a tonne of success against Detroit this season. Evander Kane and Jack Eichel each have a pair of goals against the Wings and young stud defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has five helpers in four games. The hottest Sabres player coming into Monday is 20-year-old Sam Reinhart, who was the second overall pick in 2014. He has 11 points (3G / 8A) in 12 games in March and has one goal, one assist in three games vs. Detroit.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Jimmy Howard will get the nod for the Red Wings. Howard allowed three goals on 14 shots after replacing Petr Mrazek in Saturday’s loss. He was yanked in his last start after allowing three goals on 16 shots in the blowout loss to the Lightning, but prior to that he won back-to-back over the Blue Jackets and Panthers while stopping 50 of 54 shots (.926 SV%). He is 5-5-1 with a 2.74 GAA and .905 SV% at Joe Louis Arena and the Sabres are 21st in the NHL in road goals for (2.39).
With Robin Lehner out there the Sabres will start Chad Johnson between the pipes. The 29-year-old netminder has won four of his last five starts while posting a 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% and has started twice against Detroit this season, going 1-1-0 with a 2.54 GAA and .911 SV%. His recent splits are impressive, but Johnson has been significantly better on home ice this season and three of those four recent wins came at First Niagara Center.
WISE WORDS FROM THE CAPTAIN
#RedWings Zetterberg: Obviously it’s not good but we have a game on Monday, we have to clear the air here and come back and play.
— Dana Wakiji (@Dwakiji) March 26, 2016
Dana Wakiji of redwings.nhl.com had a bunch of great quotes from the Red Wings’ dressing room following Saturday’s loss. Let’s just hope they can put all those comments and thoughts together on the ice and deliver an impressive product tonight.
WHERE TO WATCH
Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m ET at Joe Louis Arena. You can watch it on Fox Sports Detroit or the NBC Sports Network. If you aren’t near a television, you can catch it on the Radio with WXYT-FM 97.1 The Ticket.
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